Chemistry Darwinism Darwinist rhetorical tactics Evolution Origin Of Life

Is OOL Part of Darwinian Evolution?

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Recently I had a lengthy discussion with an acquaintance about evolution and the various concepts and claims that we find under the heading of the word “evolution.”  At one point I brought up the origin of life and he promptly insisted: “that’s not part of evolution.”

“Perhaps,” I offered, “but consider that the origin of life is generally included under the heading of ‘evolution’ in biology textbooks, complete with optimistic discussions about the famous experiment by Stanley Miller and Harold Urey.”

“Furthermore,” I continued, “researchers have long talked about ‘chemical evolution’ in relation to the origin of life.  What do they mean by ‘evolution’ in that context, if the origin of life is not part of evolution?”  Indeed, although Darwin did not address the origin of life in The Origin, he did speculate in other writings about the idea of chemical evolution, and it forms an important part of the origins narrative for many people.

“Still, it isn’t part of evolution,” he insisted.

The Issue

I have seen this insistence on many occasions.  There may be some who sincerely think a bright-line distinction needs to be drawn on logical grounds.  But in my experience the primary reasons Darwinists insist that abiogenesis is not part of evolutionary theory are the following:

First, abiogenesis is an incredibly difficult problem, one that every rational person acknowledges is nearly intractable under a naturalistic scenario, with only a faint glimmer of hope on the distant horizon.  As a result, from a tactical standpoint it seems better to keep this most difficult problem at bay – neatly and distantly compartmentalized as its own separate problem, rather than tainting the “overwhelming evidence” in favor of evolution.

Second, Darwinists have a very firm sense in their mind that once reproduction is on the scene then anything can happen.  Darwin himself took this approach in The Origin when he talked of evolution taking over once life had been “breathed . . . into a few forms or into one”.  Indeed, the very theory that Darwin put forward is often characterized by the fundamental description of “descent with modification.”  Thus, there is a very palpable belief in the Darwinist mind that once reproduction comes along, the magic of mutation and selection can take over and the problem of biology is well on its way to being solved.*

Beyond the musings of Darwin, Oparin and Haldane, none other than Richard Dawkins has suggested that once we get a self-replicating molecule, then the mutation-selection mechanism can take over and evolution can kick in.  Thus, the real problem in the origin of life, the first lucky step, as Dawkins notes is “the origin of the first accurately self-replicating molecule.”

I asked my acquaintance if he agreed with Dawkins that once we have a self-replicating molecule in place, that Darwinian evolution can take over.  He enthusiastically agreed, although acknowledging that the first tender self-replicator would need a safe environment in which to flourish.  (He also insisted that scientists have created such a self-replicating molecule in the lab, but backed down when I asked for details and once he realized I was familiar with Jack Szostak’s good work at Harvard.)

All of this creates a rather interesting conundrum for the faithful Darwinist who recognizes at least some of the challenges with abiogenesis.  Now that the cards are on the table as to what people like Darwin, Oparin, and Dawkins think (or at least hope to be true) we can bring some logic to bear on the subject.

The Options

There are three logical options available to the faithful Darwinist:

1. Agree with Dawkins that the initiating requirement for Darwinian evolution is a self-replicating molecule and that Darwinian evolution can kick in at that early stage of biology. Then conveniently redefine the first self-replicating molecule as the first form of “life”.  In this case Darwinian evolution can take over at this stage and one can still argue that Darwinian evolution only deals with living organisms and doesn’t have to address the origin of this first “life”.  This has some logical convenience, but is very difficult to sustain in practice.  After all, essentially all origin of life researchers take the view that first “life” is more than just a single self-replicating molecule, and they also sense the need for the additional requirements outlined in #2 below.  Furthermore, if one adopts this #1 approach and also happens to mistakenly believe (as do so many people) that self-replicating molecules have been produced in the lab, then one is arguing that the origin of life has largely been solved, a view that is at odds with every serious researcher looking into the issue.

2. Agree with Dawkins that the initiating requirement for Darwinian evolution is a self-replicating molecule and that Darwinian evolution can kick in at that early stage of biology. However, recognize that an initial living organism is much more than a single self-replicating molecule, and that additional factors are required to produce first “life”, which may include a functional membrane, working metabolic pathways, information-bearing molecules, and perhaps other properties.

This is a very common view, likely the most common view, certainly among those who would tend to agree with Dawkins. But the logical upshot of this view is that the origin of life, the process that starts with a self-replicating molecule and culminates in the first functional primitive form of life falls squarely within the framework of Darwinian evolution.  Thus, on this view it is absolutely incorrect to insist that the origin of life is “not part of evolution” and that Darwinian evolution need not explain it.  To the contrary, Darwinian evolution must explain the origin of life from this first self-replicating molecule, and cannot even get off the ground without it.

3. Disagree with Dawkins that Darwinian evolution can kick in with a self-replicating molecule. Recognize that something beyond self-replication is needed, such as the items outlined in #2, before Darwinian evolution can kick in.  This approach (like #2 and contrary to #1) has the benefit of being consistent with what origin of life researchers are actually working on.  This also has the benefit of separating the thorny origin of life challenges from the broader claims of evolution, because Darwinian evolution would only kick in at a later stage when “life” actually comes on the scene.

But at the same time this raises questions about the Darwinian mechanism: If not self-replication, then what is it exactly that causes Darwinian evolution to start?  Is there a certain level of complex functional specification required before mutation and selection can kick in?  Is there a prior need for information content and translating protocols – an information content, retrieval, and translation process – before evolution can start?  This #3 also means that Darwinian evolution, the near-mystical process of variation plus selection, can be of no help in going from a self-replicating molecule to the first living organism or in addressing the items required for the origin of life.

The Upshot

So for those who argue for a naturalistic origin of life scenario, which is it?  Which of the three** approaches do you prefer?

—–

*  This is nonsense, of course, not only because the mutation-selection mechanism is largely impotent, but also because the reproduction aspect brings far less to the table than evolutionists would like to think.  That is a topic for another time.  (Note also that the idea of reproduction arising at the beginning of the evolutionary process is severely problematic for the evolutionary story, as detailed here.)

** There is fourth option available, but most Darwinists will never consider it, as it strikes at the very heart of Darwin’s theory.  Namely:

4. Agree with Dawkins that the initiating requirement for Darwinian evolution is a self-replicating molecule and that Darwinian evolution can kick in at that early stage of biology. However, recognize that it isn’t going to do much of anything and will never solve the origin of life problem or produce a living organism because the mutation-selection mechanism is essentially impotent as a creative force.

55 Replies to “Is OOL Part of Darwinian Evolution?

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    Nice OP Eric.

  2. 2
    Eric Anderson says:

    Thanks, Mung.

    Either way we cut it (single self-replicating molecule or a more complete “organism”) OOL is a non-starter from a naturalistic perspective on the substantive front. But I think this categorization is an important point from a logical, theoretical, and tactical perspective.

  3. 3
    Otangelo Grasso says:

    The possible mechanisms to explain the origin of life

    http://reasonandscience.heaven.....in-of-life

    Calculations of life beginning through unguided, natural, random events.
    http://reasonandscience.heaven.....dom-events

    Neither Evolution nor physical necessity are a driving force prior dna replication. The only two alternatives are either a) creation by an intelligent agency, or b) Random, unguided, undirected natural events by a lucky “accident”.

    Neither Evolution nor physical necessity are a driving force prior dna replication :The origin of the first cell, cannot be explained by natural selection (Ann N Y Acad, 2000)

    Koonin, the logic of chance, page 246
    Evolution by natural selection and drift can begin only after replication with sufficient fidelity is established. Even at that stage, the evolution of translation remains highly problematic. The emergence of the first replicator system, which represented the “Darwinian breakthrough,” was inevitably preceded by a succession of complex, difficult steps for which biological evolutionary mechanisms were not accessible . The synthesis of nucleotides and (at least) moderate-sized polynucleotides could not have evolved biologically and must have emerged abiogenically—that is, effectively by chance abetted by chemical selection, such as the preferential survival of stable RNA species. Translation is thought to have evolved later via an ad hoc selective process. Did you read this ???!! A ad-hoc process ??

    Without code there can be no self-replication. Without self-replication, you can’t have reproduction. Without reproduction, you can’t have evolution or natural selection.

    Heredity is guaranteed by faithful DNA replication whereas evolution depends upon errors accompanying DNA replication. ( Furusawa, 1998 ) We hypothesize that the origin of life, that is, the origin of the first cell, cannot be explained by natural selection among self-replicating molecules, as is done by the RNA-world hypothesis. ( Vaneechoutte M )
    The origin of the first cell, cannot be explained by natural selection (Ann N Y Acad, 2000) DNA replication had therefore to be previously, before life began, fully setup , working, and fully operating, in order for evolution to act upon the resulting mutations.

    Stephen Meyer, Darwins doubt, page 6:
    Natural selection assumes
    the existence of living organisms with a capacity to reproduce. Yet self-replication in all extant cells depends upon information-rich proteins and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), and the origin of such information-rich molecules is precisely what origin-of-life research needs to explain. That’s why Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis, can state flatly, “Pre-biological natural selection is a contradiction in terms.”5 Or, as Nobel Prize–winning molecular biologist and origin-of-life researcher Christian de Duve explains, theories of prebiotic natural selection fail because they “need information which implies they have to presuppose what is to be explained in the first place.

    That means, evolution was not a driving force and acting for the emergence and origin of the first living organisms. The only remaining possible mechanisms are chemical reactions acting upon unregulated, aleatory events ( luck,chance), or physical necessity. ( where chemical reactions are forced into taking a certain course of action. )

    Physical necessity & Physical laws

    Physical laws which result in physical constraints, where chemical reactions are forced into taking a certain course of action is an often cited possible mechanism for the origin of life.
    We are moving from chemistry to biology. Henceforward, life, it goes without saying, is independent of its chemical substrate, and its evolution does not follow paths that are predictable solely based on the laws of physics.
    M. Gargaud · H. Martin · P. López-García T. Montmerle · R. Pascal Young Sun, Early Earth and the Origins of Life, page 95

    Laurent Boiteau Prebiotic Chemistry: From Simple Amphiphiles to Protocell Models, page 3:
    Spontaneous self-assembly occurs when certain compounds associate through noncovalent hydrogen bonds, electrostatic forces, and nonpolar interactions that stabilize orderly arrangements of small and large molecules. The argument that chemical reactions in a primordial soup would not act upon pure chance, and that chemistry is not a matter of “random chance and coincidence , finds its refutation by the fact that the information stored in DNA is not constrained by chemistry. Yockey shows that the rules of any communication system are not derivable from the laws of physics. He continues : “there is nothing in the physicochemical world that remotely resembles reactions being determined by a sequence and codes between sequences.” In other words, nothing in nonliving physics or chemistry obeys symbolic instructions.

    Stephen C. Meyer observed:
    “There are neither bonds nor bonding affinities—differing in strength or otherwise—that can explain the origin of the base sequencing that constitutes the information in the DNA molecule”
    (Signature in the Cell, 243).

    As Paul Davies lamented,
    “We are still left with the mystery of where biological information comes from.… If the normal laws of physics can’t inject information, and if we are ruling out miracles, then how can life be predetermined and inevitable rather than a freak accident? How is it possible to generate random complexity and specificity together in a lawlike manner? We always come back to that basic paradox”
    (Fifth Miracle, 258).

    Werner Gitt summarized it this way:
    “A necessary requirement for generating meaningful information is the ability to select from alternatives and this requires an intelligent, volitional entity.… Unguided, random processes cannot do this—not in any amount of time because this selection process demands continuous guidance by intelligent beings that have a purpose”
    (Without Excuse, 50–51).

    The Genetic Code
    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.g.....ncode.html
    DNA contains a true code. Being a true code means that the code is free and unconstrained; any of the four bases can be placed in any of the positions in the sequence of bases. Their sequence is not determined by the chemical bonding. There are hydrogen bonds between the base pairs and each base is bonded to the sugar phosphate backbone, but there are no bonds along the longitudional axis of DNA. The bases occur in the complementary base pairs A-T and G-C, but along the sequence on one side the bases can occur in any order, like the letters of a language used to compose words and sentences. Since nucleotides can be arranged freely into any informational sequence, physical necessity could not be a driving mechanism.

    Abiogenesis is the process by which life arises naturally from non-living matter. Scientists speculate that life may have arisen as a result of random chemical processes happening to produce self-replicating molecules.
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Abiogenesis

    Paul Davies conceded, “Unfortunately, before Darwinian evolution can start, a certain minimum level of complexity is required. But how was this initial complexity achieved? When pressed, most scientists wring their hands and mutter the incantation ‘Chance.’ So, did chance alone create the first self-replicating molecule?” (Fifth Miracle, 138).

    If design or physical necessity is discarded, the only remaining possible mechanism for the origin of life is chance/luck.

  4. 4
    Eric Anderson says:

    Thanks, Otangelo, for the comments.

    From the quotes you provided, it looks like Davies and rationalwiki are going with Dawkins and hoping for a self-replicating molecule that can kick off Darwinian selection, along the lines of Options #1 or #2.

    Koonin, Furusawa, Vaneechoutte, and NY Acad seem to be suggesting that something more is required, along the lines of Option #3, and that a self-replicating molecule by itself isn’t sufficient for Darwinian evolution to take hold.

  5. 5
    Mung says:

    What are the minimal requirements for Darwinian evolution to occur seems to be an element of the theory not accounted for by the theory.

  6. 6
    Seversky says:

    Is OOL Part of Darwinian Evolution?

    No, it is not but that has no bearing on the theory of evolution. As Darwin himself wrote in the third edition of On The Origin of Species:

    …it is no valid objection that science as yet throws no light on the far higher problem of the essence or origin of life.

    … and later in a letter to Joseph Hooker:

    …it is mere rubbish thinking, at present, of origin of life; one might as well think of origin of matter

    I don’t think that anyone would disagree with the position that the origin of life is a much harder question than the origin of species. There is, as yet, no naturalistic account of how life might have emerged from inanimate matter although that does not mean that one is not possible. The problem is that any proposed Designer or Creator faces at least as many problems as a naturalistic account so it doesn’t get us any further forward.

  7. 7
    Mung says:

    It’s as if Seversky accepts as truth anything uttered by the Darwin Oracle.

  8. 8
    rvb8 says:

    The tone of this post is interesting.

    EA had a discussion with an ‘acquiantance’, and the acquiantance, ‘promptly isisted: “that’s not part of evolution.”

    The acquinatance is correct of course, evolution is merely a scathingly clear description of how change occurs in the natural world, not how that life first appeared.

    It’s not so much the implication that EA’s interlocutor was defensive, but more so that EA thinks materialists are defensive about this claim at all.

    I’m not. OOL obviously came about randomly via the interaction of naturally occuring chemicals fuelled by energy that was present, heat, ultra violet light,static electricity, magma etc.

    So, EA, I, unlike your acquiantance don’t defensively say, ‘that’s not part of evolution’, I say, ‘that’s not part of evolution, but your alternative origins tale, is just that, a tale, mine at least has solid science to back it up.’

  9. 9
    es58 says:

    If life was designed and was designed to evolve does that have any impact on evolution? If so it would seem they are inextricably connected.

  10. 10
    Eric Anderson says:

    Seversky @6:

    Thanks for your comment.

    No, it is not . . .

    So in that case do you more closely identify with #1 or #3.

  11. 11
    Eric Anderson says:

    rvb8:

    And so, like my acquaintance, you assert that the origin of life is not part of evolution.

    So please allow yourself to take the next logical step, rather than just repeating mindless platitudes about chemical reactions being fueled by energy . . .

    Do you agree with Dawkins that a self-replicating molecule kicks off Darwinian evolution (in which case you define a self-replicating molecule as “life”), or do you disagree with Dawkins and think that significantly more is required?

    Which is it #1 or #3?

  12. 12
    tribune7 says:

    You have a theory that life (and everything) can come about without design. That is the theory that opponents of ID defend regardless of what they call it or how they break it down in segments.

    Just about everyone on this board accepts that random genetic changes occur in nature and that these changes can be fixed via natural selection. Is that the Theory of Evolution? Then what are we arguing about?

    Is it the claim that all life can from a single common ancestor and changed without design but the single common ancestor was designed?

    I don’t think so. The theory on the table that is being defended for the glory of nihilism is that everything came about without design.

    That’s what the focus should be on.

  13. 13
    Eric Anderson says:

    Seversky @6:

    The problem is that any proposed Designer or Creator faces at least as many problems as a naturalistic account so it doesn’t get us any further forward.

    What does this mean? Are you claiming that an intelligent designer can’t produce things any more readily than what could be produced by purely natural causes?

    Like the computer you are typing on or the screen you are looking at?

    Why would you think that a designer faces “at least as many problems” as a naturalistic account in producing a complex, functionally-integrated, information-rich system? Designers do it all the time. Undirected natural processes have never, not once in all of history, been observed to do it.

    Color me skeptical, but it seems the main “problem” facing a designer is that a designer isn’t palatable to certain philosophical positions.

    —–

    Specifically, in the present context, all the progress, if we can call it that, in origin of life research to date is attributable to the efforts of the designers — selecting just the right molecules, preparing specific substrates, purifying reactions, studiously preventing interfering cross reactions, carefully protecting the nascent enzymes, and so on.

    If your only point is that a designer would have to overcome the natural tendency of matter to not self-organize into a living system, then sure.

    But if your claim is that a designer would have no more ability to build such a system than random, blind chemical reactions, then no, such a claim is blatantly false.

  14. 14
    rvb8 says:

    EA,

    I’m just annoyed at the tone. You imply it is evolutionary biologists that must answer these questions.

    They are trying and the advances in bio-engineering produce more and more possible tracks for origins.

    But you’re wrong’ It is the creationists/IDists that have the heaviest burden of proof.

    It is your claim to supernauralism that must truly be proven; and let’s face it, how can you materialistically prove that wich is beyond-natural, indeed super natural.

    You mock my simple statement that chemicals plus energy is enough? Why?

    These two combined have already produced more than twenty amino acids, and other organic molecules.

    What has your ‘supernatural’ position ever proven? Except of course when allied to faith, then it proves absolutely everything.

  15. 15
    humbled says:

    Rvb8

    Perhaps “the tone” you are picking up on is simply in response to the hostile, rude and dismissive attitude many of “us” have experienced when dealing with the darwin-faithful?

    Also, shifting the burden of proof is unacceptable. It is you lot, the darwin-faithful that are trying to convince the world to accept silly antiquated ideas reworked by a confused and terribly conflicted man 150+ years ago. Darwin clearly suffered mental health issues (well documented) and his work, theories, conclusions etc. are evidence of this.

    “You lot” are expecting “us” to turn off the critical thinking centers of our brains and accept a theory that runs contrary to common sense and defies all logic and reason. Further, contrary to Darwinist claims, there exists NO scientific proof whatsoever supporting the ageing Victorian theory. No, your position is one of faith…in light of the above the burden is on “you lot” to prove “us” wrong.

    Your second last sentence “These two combined have already produced more than twenty amino acids, and other organic molecules.” only serves to prove you obviously haven’t given all of this much thought. Do you not recognize the highly calibrated and finely tuned constants required to jump start life in the first place? That nothing (NO-THING) existed in the NOTHINGNESS? No laws, no forces, no energies, no chemicals NOTHING existed. If nothing existed nothing was able to interact with nothing let alone combine and / or interact to create what we recognize as the known universe along with all that is in it.

    You should re-read your last sentence as well. It is plainly obvious to me that it explains your position better than “ours”. It is your belief system that has never been proven and it is your belief system that requires extreme blind faith in order to work your theories.

  16. 16
    Latemarch says:

    rvb8:
    They are trying and the advances in bio-engineering produce more and more possible tracks for origins.

    Bold mine.
    You write our arguments for us!

    You mock my simple statement that chemicals plus energy is enough? Why?

    These two combined have already produced more than twenty amino acids, and other organic molecules.

    Really?
    I’m going to hazard a guess that you have never actually read any of the ID literature or you wouldn’t have come back with that one.

    Be bold and know your opponents strongest arguments. Question your assumptions. I know it messes with your materialist metaphysic but if your wrong about that it might cost you more than your willing to pay.

  17. 17
    tribune7 says:

    –“What has your ‘supernatural’ position ever proven? Except of course when allied to faith, then it proves absolutely everything.”–

    The “supernatural position” is an end not a means.

    Observing events, thinking about them and striving to duplicate them in controlled settings is a means not an end and one that actually leads to “the supernatural position” if one is open minded.

    That all ultimately has a natural cause is a faith statement. It’s actually anti-science in that it presumes an answer without being able to demonstrate it.

    Actually it’s full-blown delusion when the claim is denied as being faith –something one believes but can’t demonstrate.

  18. 18
    mike1962 says:

    rvb8: OOL obviously came about randomly via the interaction of naturally occuring chemicals fuelled by energy that was present, heat, ultra violet light,static electricity, magma etc.

    If it is so obvious, go ahead and give us a blow by blow account of how it happened at the molecular level.

    Thanks.

  19. 19
    Eric Anderson says:

    Seversky @6:

    There is, as yet, no naturalistic account of how life might have emerged from inanimate matter . . .

    Quite true, and I appreciate your honesty.

    . . . although that does not mean that one is not possible.

    Sure. It’s possible, as a matter of sheer logic.

    Just like it’s possible that the Sun will cease shining today at noon or that gravity will fail tonight at midnight or that we’re all just brains in a jar in a lab.

    But in rational science we don’t deal with sheer logical possibilities. We have to deal with rational and realistic possibilities. Things that have a reasonable chance of being true. Things that are consistent with our understanding of chemistry and physics and with what we know about the cause and effect relationships in the real world.

    It would be nice to have a naturalistic theory that is likely true, but let’s start with a lower bar and require at least a reasonable — not a wild, unsupported, sheer speculative fantasy — but a reasonable reason to think that life can emerge from inanimate matter through purely naturalistic means.

    Then we would still have to analyze the details to see if a naturalistic scenario is the best answer. But let’s at least get over the initial hurdle of something reasonable.

  20. 20
    Eric Anderson says:

    rvb8:

    If you re-read the OP, you’ll notice that I never brought up “supernaturalism” (whatever that is). I didn’t bring up an alternate theory. I didn’t even mention design.

    We could certainly have a conversation about those things, but the OP is focused on the naturalistic narrative and some basic logical issues that flow from that narrative. You have so far studiously avoided the questions posed in the OP, and have instead jumped in, guns blazing and fists swinging, with crude insinuations that you are on the side of “science” and with laughable assertions about how “obvious” it is that naturalistic abiogenesis is true (hint: take a lesson from Seversky’s much more measured and rational tone).

    It is clear that you are out of your depth on this issue, that you don’t have a lot of understanding of origin of life research, that you haven’t taken the time or put in the intellectual effort to analyze the science. That’s fine. Everyone needs to start somewhere. But you might consider next time (a) actually addressing the point of the OP, and (b) pausing to think about what you are saying (better yet, even studying up a bit) before jumping into unfamiliar territory with guns blazing.

    —–

    In an effort to again bring your attention back to the OP, since you have rejected #2, which option do you prefer #1 or #3?

  21. 21

    Darwinian evolution is wholly linked to the Origin of Life; they both require the same physical mechanism (symbolic memory and translation) in order to come into being. Without the capacity to specify something among alternatives, neither Darwinian evolution nor the organization of the living cell is even possible.

  22. 22

    rv complaining to EA about tone is a scene cut from the Twilight Zone.

  23. 23
    john_a_designer says:

    [The following is something that I have written a couple times before, on other threads, which I think is worth is repeating here.]

    The origin of life is like the origin of the universe. It appears to be a singular, non-repeating, highly improbable event which occurred very early in earth’s history. Furthermore all the clues of how and why it occurred have been lost. But then added to that problem are other problems: how does chemistry create code? What is required to create an autonomously self-replicating system which has the possibility of evolving into something more complex? The naturalist/ materialist then compounds the problem by demanding a priori that the origin of life must be completely natural– undirected without an intelligent plan or purpose.

    That seems like it was a miracle… Well, maybe it was. But a completely “naturalistic miracle” seems to be an absurd self-defeating claim for the naturalist/materialist to make.

    One of my pipe dreams as a real life (now retired) machine designer is to design a self-replicating machine or automata– the kind that was first envisioned by mathematician John von Neumann. My vision is not a machine that could replicate itself from already existing parts but a machine– well actually machines– which could replicate themselves from raw material they would find on a rocky planet in some distant star system.

    One practical advantage of such machines is they could be sent out in advance some far-in-the-distant-future expedition to terraform a suitable planet in another star system preparing it for colonist who might arrive centuries or millennia later.

    By analogy, that is what the first living cells which originated on the early earth had to do.

    Even the simplest prokaryote cell is on the sub-cellular level a collection of machines networked together to replicate the whole system. To suggest that somehow the first cell emerged by some fortuitous accident is betray an ignorance how really complex primitive cells are.

    Try thinking this through on a more macro level, as I have described above, and I think you will begin to appreciate how really daunting the problem is.

  24. 24
    jstanley01 says:

    If Meyer is right, that the inference to the best explanation for the Cambrian Explosion and the complexity of the cell is design, it may be that design is the inference to the only explanation for the origin of life. Which may or may not become clear as science progresses “one funeral at a time.”

  25. 25
    Eric Anderson says:

    john_a_designer @23:

    Sounds like a great endeavor!

    I think someone here previously linked to a fair amount of work that has been done by space enthusiasts on that very endeavor: creating a self-replicating machine that could be sent to a barren planet.

    It actually turns out, once they started looking into the details, that they would need a whole suite of machines — everything from exploring to mining to manufacturing to repairing. All working in coordinated functionality.

    I’ll see if I can scare up the link and post it . . .

  26. 26
    john_a_designer says:

    Here is a rather stunning admission by Richard Dawkins:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoncJBrrdQ8

    The first life on earth could have been intelligently designed– as long as it was an ET intelligence not God.

    Of course other atheists have admitted the same thing. See the following Sci Am article which references a paper written by Francis Crick and British chemist Leslie Orgel.

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-origins-of-directed-panspermia/

    I believe it was Crick and Orgel who coined the term directed panspermia.

    To be fair I think Dawkins later tried to walk back his position. (However, we still have the tape!) Maybe Crick and Orgel did as well. But the point remains, until you prove how life first originated intelligent design is a logical possibility.

    Ironically, in the Ben Stein interview Dawkins said that if life were intelligently designed (by space aliens) the scientific research may be able to discover their signature. Didn’t someone write a book about the origin of life with the word signature in the title? Who was that? I wonder if he picked up the idea from Dawkins. Does anyone know?

  27. 27
    Phinehas says:

    Of course OOL isn’t part of Darwinian Evolution.

    Oh, and who designed the Designer must be part of ID.

    The hypocrisy meter is in the red.

  28. 28
    Phinehas says:

    EA and JAD:

    It actually turns out, once they started looking into the details, that they would need a whole suite of machines — everything from exploring to mining to manufacturing to repairing. All working in coordinated functionality.

    Not sure if any of you are game players, but this reminds me of a game called Factorio that is available on Steam. You can read about it here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factorio

    It isn’t so much about the reproduction part as it is about the whole suite of machines working in coordinated functionality. And using intelligence to design such a thing.

  29. 29
    bill cole says:

    The simplest life so far is Venter’s 473 gene prokaryotic cell. According to a Koonin paper in 2010 there are 2400 Eukaryotic genes without homologs.

    Is the origin of the Eukaryotic cell part of Darwinian evolution?

  30. 30
    john_a_designer says:

    EA @ 25,

    It actually turns out, once they started looking into the details, that they would need a whole suite of machines — everything from exploring to mining to manufacturing to repairing. All working in coordinated functionality.

    Indeed, as I have looked into the details I don’t see, at least on the macro scale, how a self-replicating machine is even possible. For example, it would be, if not impossible, very impractical for a single machine, sent to a barren planet, to carry around the all equipment needed to smelt and then process metals– metals you would need to build other machines… spare parts etc. At some point the machine or machines would need (probably very early on) to build some kind of factory to smelt, forge, extrude, structural shapes which would later be formed into parts. And that is only the beginning of problems you would need to solve in order to have an integrated self-replicating system of machines. By integrated I mean no single machine by itself is self-replicating.

    Is the replication process on the microscopic sub-cellular scale that we find in nature any easier? Is there such a thing as a simple pre-biotic replicator? It appears from what we presently know, no.

    According to Genomics entrepreneur and researcher Craig Venter:

    “All living cells that we know of on this planet are ‘DNA software’-driven biological machines comprised of hundreds of thousands of protein robots, coded for by the DNA, that carry out precise functions.”

    An integrated self-replicating system of machines. Again, it is a system of machines that is required for replication. A stand-alone replicator, at least the kind that could lead to kind of viable evolution, appears at the present to be only wishful speculation.

  31. 31
    scottH says:

    Please stop engaging with rvb8. If he/she was unable to humble themselves in the slightest when told that a gene knockout experiment does not mean a great argument, but an actual experimental process, then there’s no need to continue in dialog. That would give any reasonable and rational person pause in declaring that which they obviously have very little knowledge of as undeniably true, and those who question it are ignorant “science deniers”. Of course it is easy make ridiculous claims when you have courage behind your keyboard. It saves from embarrassing face to face interactions. It’s all projection. Telling others of their “faith based” positions while knowing full well their position requires far more faith. It’s not terribly hard to see.
    The alternative would be that rvb8 loves getting others worked up. It may bring purpose and joy to his/her life. To each his own I guess.
    Sorry but I had to get that out there.

  32. 32
    mike1962 says:

    Please stop engaging with rvb8

    Killer whale. The seal is flopping around.

    Nuf said

  33. 33
    Eric Anderson says:

    john_a_designer @30:

    I found the reference I was thinking of.

    A bit of background first:

    In the euphoria of the tremendous success of the Apollo missions in the 1970’s, NASA commissioned several studies about what might be next: some relating to immediate projects, some more long term, some on the visionary edges of science fiction.

    One such study, presented at a conference held in the summer of 1980 belongs in the latter category. It was entitled “Advanced Automation for Space Missions,” and spans nearly 400 pages.

    https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19830007077.pdf

    A somewhat more digestible web version was made available by Robert Freitas, one of the authors, here:

    http://www.rfreitas.com/Astro/.....ly1980.htm

    The central idea was to lay out what would be required for an automated robotic fleet to explore the galaxy. This is, it must be confessed, an impressive effort to put this much thought and effort into the actual details.

    Yet even after the tremendous work and thought put into how to make a truly autonomous self-replicating robotic exploration system, there are hints that it still might not work without occasional intelligent guidance and intervention along the way.

    In addition to possible intelligent guidance and intervention at certain stages, Freitas recognized the difficulty of closing the loop on the self-replication cycle itself. He calls this the “closure problem.”

    This closure problem includes the difficulty of getting all of the materials processing machines, chemical elements, process chemicals, alloys, etc. in place. In particular, he noted that difficult items to close include some “hard-to-manufacture but lightweight items such as microelectronics . . . precision instruments and others which may not be cost-effective to produce via automation off-Earth” in the near term. Even after significant “bootstrapping”, Freitas notes that something on the order of 90-96% closure might be attainable.

    90-96% is of course impressive. But in the context of what would actually be required for a truly autonomous self-replicator sent to a new planet to reproduce and explore, it isn’t quite there. 96% won’t get you 96% of the next generation. It won’t get you past the first generation.

    As someone who has also spent some time analyzing what would be required for true self-replication in a real-world environment, I am impressed with Freitas’ efforts, nearly 50 years ago. And the other striking impression that comes to mind is just how difficult a proposition self-replication is.

    The ability to send nano-scale self-replicators to Earth with the ability to faithfully and successfully populate the Earth is an engineering feat almost beyond comprehension. Anyone with a rational understanding of what we are witness to in biology would be inclined to a profound sense of awe and wonder at the genius behind it.

    Self-replication lies at the end of an incredibly detailed, inter-related, integrated, precision process, driven at every step by deep levels of information.

    The naive and evidence-free evolutionary narrative, on the other hand, has everything completely upside down. It isn’t just that the materialist creation story hasn’t yet discovered the naturalistic origin of biology. It isn’t just that important details have yet to be filled in. It isn’t even (as most critics of abiogenesis realize) that it won’t work.

    No. The problem is deeper than that. Evolution’s claim that self-replication is the first attribute of a living organism, that self-replication is the beginning of the creative process is not just mistaken — it is utterly, completely backwards from the engineering realities.

    I discussed this fundamental issue previously, here:

    https://uncommondescent.com/origin-of-life/thinking-upside-down-the-abiogenesis-paradigm/

    —–

    BTW, h/t InVivoVeritas, JonathanB, and Arminius Mignea for the reference to the NASA study and Mr. Freitas’ good work.

  34. 34
    kairosfocus says:

    EA, one reason I tend to speak specifically to origin of cell-based life [on earth], is that it forces attention on where the issues lie, instead of opening up all sort of speculations about self-replicating molecules and imagined pre-life environments across a cosmos or a multiverse. This also leads directly to the issue of origin of coded, textual algorithmic information in DNA used to control protein manufacture. Thus, the pivotal significance of functional coherence based on functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information in cell based life. This invites the question that evolutionary materialism advocates routinely duck rather than answer: what is the only empirically warranted cause of such FSCO/I? KF

    PS: I think it is also helpful to be specific about evolutionary materialism. It is because of such an a priori commitment that there is a demand for origin of cell based life by blind chance and mechanical necessity, as the root of the darwinist tree of life. This puts the context for the question by taking over a classic icon to point to the issue that has been too often ducked or diverted from. Once design is there as best explanation for FSCO/I at the root, it is available thereafter.

  35. 35
    kairosfocus says:

    Phinehas: yes, the inconsistency is plain, but the game is, who holds power and can impose narrative. KF

  36. 36
    Dionisio says:

    KF @34:

    one reason I tend to speak specifically to origin of cell-based life [on earth], is that it forces attention on where the issues lie, instead of opening up all sort of speculations about self-replicating molecules and imagined pre-life environments across a cosmos or a multiverse.

    Agree.

  37. 37
    Eric Anderson says:

    kf @34:

    I agree with you that the fundamental key is information. How do we account for the complex functional specified information in living organisms?

    However, it is important to continue to put pressure on the Darwinian creation story at its very root. There are two reasons for this:

    1. If self-replication cannot get off the ground without complex functional specified information, then we can put the emphasis and focus back on information and the inference that logically flows from that aspect.

    2. Nearly all modern Darwinists believe that self-replication can produce complex functional specified information. The upshot of this is that as long as they cling to the idea that a primitive self-replicator could arise by chance, then, in their mind, the problem of information isn’t really that big of a problem. (My next post will take the next logical step, connecting the dots between self-replication, origin of life, and Darwinian evolution, just to wrap up the point started in this OP.)

    This is nonsense of course, as self-replication isn’t going to produce complex functional specified information.* But that is the Darwinian claim and the definite sense among Darwinists, so I want to meet them right there at that juncture and challenge them on this key aspect of their theory.

    So I intend to keep exerting as much pressure as possible on the concept of self-replication as the basis for Darwinian evolution in the first place.

    If I can get a few Darwinists, or even lurkers, to stop and realize that (a) self-replication is an incredibly difficult engineering problem and (b) Darwinian theory has the engineering reality exactly backwards, then to that extent we can start to shine the light of logic on the myth of self-replication being the starting point that leads to what we see in biology, including the complex functional specified information in living organisms.

    If I can accomplish that for at least a few individuals, I’ll feel like I’ve done a good service to the debate.

    —–

    * Reproduction does not, in fact, bring much to the table in terms of evolution, contrary to the fundamental place reproduction occupies in most evolutionists’ minds (a subsequent OP for another time).

  38. 38
    groovamos says:

    RVB the acquinatance is correct of course, evolution is merely a scathingly clear description of how change occurs in the natural world …. OOL obviously came about randomly via the interaction of naturally occuring chemicals fuelled by energy that was present, heat, ultra violet light,static electricity, magma etc.

    Oh I see. Darwinism is scathingly clear on how “change” occurs. But when something novel arrives such as that magical point in time and space of the magical OOL, well that didn’t “change” anything, hee hee. What a scientific lesson, thank you! Darwinists are the definers of “change”, we must learn what constitutes “change” and what doesn’t. Wow. Precision!

    But since Darwinism is all about “randomly” funny how “randomly” shows up anyway, in a story about OOL something Darwin couldn’t answer supposedly.

    But we know why “randomly” is so powerful in the materialist mind. Because we know that they know how it didn’t happen don’t we? Because the 19th century Figurehead of Materialism is so powerful with his magical “randomly” persuasion, that it must apply to everything. So Darwinism and OOL are the same, really, all about worship of those “randomly” happenings. Whew.

  39. 39
    Seversky says:

    Mung @ 7

    It’s as if Seversky accepts as truth anything uttered by the Darwin Oracle.

    “I don’t know where you get your delusions from, laser-brain!”

  40. 40
    johnnyb says:

    Evolution is indeed predicated on the origin of life, as has been discussed here before

    Basically, if evolution includes common descent, then, to know whether something is the result of common descent or a separate origin of life event, you must know something about what the origin of life looks like to make that determination!

    Imagine if the origin of life is both easy and predictable (i.e., it went through the same sequence of stages and the same DNA sequences). In that case, there would not be the ability to distinguish between two organisms that were identical because they were descended from a common ancestor, and two organisms that were identical because they had a shared origin of life story.

    You can’t separate out origin of life from evolution for the simple reason that common ancestry has very specific requirements for what the origin of life must look like. Without those assumptions, common ancestry has little to stand on.

  41. 41
    Seversky says:

    Eric Anderson @ 13

    Seversky @6:

    The problem is that any proposed Designer or Creator faces at least as many problems as a naturalistic account so it doesn’t get us any further forward.

    What does this mean? Are you claiming that an intelligent designer can’t produce things any more readily than what could be produced by purely natural causes?

    First, although an intelligent designer or creator, assuming that we are talking about a living being, might explain the existence of life on Earth, it doesn’t explain the origin of life itself. The question then becomes one of the origin of the designer or creator.

    Second, one of the few things that kairosfocus and I agree on is that you cannot get something from nothing. If there had ever been absolutely nothing, there would still be absolutely nothing, if that makes any sense. Given that, my question would be, where did the designer or creator get the knowledge to design our universe?

    If this universe is the first and only one of its kind, so that there could be no knowledge of previous universes to draw on, how did the designer know what to design? For example, if I asked you to design a &*%^$#@)&^$$#, using only %$#@!**&^() and $%#@&&^%, could you do it? I would say not. Neither you nor I nor anyone else has any idea what &*%^$#@)&^$$# and %$#@!**&^() and $%#@&&^% are. They are meaningless terms. The same would have been true of our universe if nothing like it had existed before, unless the information or knowledge of what a universe is had existed for longer than the designer/creator. Bear in mind that human designers always draw on a body of pre-existing knowledge when they design anything. They cannot do otherwise. The same is presumably true of any designer as it is what the concept of design implies. So the question then becomes, as I asked before, what is the origin of the information used by the designer of our universe when he, she or it designed it?

    In other words, proposing a designer/creator doesn’t actually answer the question of the origin of the information or knowledge or laws or regularities – whatever you want to call it – that enables our universe to exist at all.

  42. 42
    rvb8 says:

    Phineas @ 27,

    OOL studies are not part of evolutionary biology, but if you scratch the very thin surface you will find all scientists in the area of OOL are indeed convinced evolutionary biologists.

    I’m just trying to explain they are different fields that agree on the science of evolution. The OOL biologists merely have different objectives, one to prove how life evolves, the other how life began.

    So, Phineas, if push came to shove OOL biologists would happily put themselves in Darwin’s camp.

    Now your second claim that you find it ironic that evolutionists need not explain OOL, but that these same evolutionists demand of IDists that they answer the question of, ‘who designed the designer?’

    This is not ironic or hypocritcal. OOL study and evolution are different fields, both using the same methods to prove their seperate ideas.

    But when scientists ask where did this designer come from, this is a legitimate question demanding an answer and is not at all ironic.

    Who did design the designer? How can we possibly test for this?

    OOL has theories and ideas that can and are testable. Who designed the designer, is a legitimate and utterly beyond science untestable theory; we can’t do it.

    We can however join chemicals together using natural forces to see what they produce. At present, and dissapointingly only organic chemicals, but the future is looking bright; how’s your testing going?

  43. 43
    Eric Anderson says:

    Seversky @41:

    Second, one of the few things that kairosfocus and I agree on is that you cannot get something from nothing. If there had ever been absolutely nothing, there would still be absolutely nothing, if that makes any sense.

    Absolutely makes sense, and I agree. But who claimed there was ever absolutely nothing?

    You seem to be conflating the idea of the universe having a beginning, and therefore not existing prior to its beginning, with the idea of absolute nothingness.

    These are two separate issues. I haven’t heard any well-known design advocate ever claim that there used to be absolutely nothing. In fact for centuries there has been quite a bit of literature (within and outside of ID) devoted to the question of a First Cause.

    It sounds like you’re falling back on the tired old “who designed the designer” red herring, which has been answered more times that we can count.

    But I may be misunderstanding your point. If you are focusing on a different or more nuanced issue, let me know.

    —–

    Also, your point about humans drawing on their pre-existing knowledge is not nearly the whole story nor the right way to look at intelligence.

    The whole trajectory of human invention and development is one of new discoveries, new inventions that did not exist before. Yes, we have certain background knowledge that we bring to the table, but we are not limited by that knowledge. The very point of being an intelligent being is the ability to envision opportunities and to use our ability to make choices from among contingent possibilities — to see beyond what currently exists and to bring it into reality.

  44. 44
    Eric Anderson says:

    johnnyb @40:

    Thanks for the comments and link. Has it really been that long?!

    I didn’t remember that specific discussion, but I do remember Paul Nelson’s very interesting presentation that he links to in the comments on that thread. Well worth checking out if the link is still live.

  45. 45
    tragic mishap says:

    Hey can somebody contact the site admin and get their security certificate updated? I’m having trouble linking to this page. Facebook saying there are problems with the security certificate and refusing to link to it. Probably just needs to be updated.

  46. 46
    Mung says:

    You have so far studiously avoided the questions posed in the OP…

    Isn’t that option #4?

  47. 47
    J-Mac says:

    Is OOL Part of Darwinian Evolution??

    It mustn’t be at all!!!

    If it were, Darwinists would have face the same issue each time hey presented their bs:

    “How do yo justify your theory of evolution if 99.9999999999999% of your theory you have not one piece of evidence for and 0.000000000000000000001% of your evidence is that life just happened?”

    As Darwin himself confirmed this:

    “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one”.

    Who can argue with that???

  48. 48
    critical rationalist says:

    Darwinian evolution is wholly linked to the Origin of Life; they both require the same physical mechanism (symbolic memory and translation) in order to come into being. Without the capacity to specify something among alternatives, neither Darwinian evolution nor the organization of the living cell is even possible.

    Neo-Darwinism, in respect to biology, is an explanation for the appearance of design in organisms, part of which includes highly accurate (yet imperfect) replication of cells.

    Specifically, as developed by von Neumann, replication of cells at high accuracy requires a recipe, which is itself copied as the genome, and then used to build the replicator vehicle, which is the cell.

    This is in contrast to low accuracy replicators, which do not exhibit the appearance of design and do not require the same sort of explanation.

    IOW, we do not need evolution for evolution to get started. All we need are primitive replicators to eventually make highly inaccurate copies of themselves at the expense of others.

    Or, to use an analogy, when being chased by a bear, you don’t have to be clever, fast or stronger than the bear. All you have to do is outrun the other guy. At the OOL, none of the other replicators exhibited highly accurate replication, either.

  49. 49
    Seversky says:

    Eric Anderson @ 43

    You seem to be conflating the idea of the universe having a beginning, and therefore not existing prior to its beginning, with the idea of absolute nothingness.

    These are two separate issues. I haven’t heard any well-known design advocate ever claim that there used to be absolutely nothing. In fact for centuries there has been quite a bit of literature (within and outside of ID) devoted to the question of a First Cause

    What I was trying to establish was a point of agreement on the concept of nothingness. As I’m sure you know, there are physicists who argue that the Universe could have emerged from nothing. But by “nothing” they seen to mean some sort of quantum vacuum fluctuations which, while they may be insubstantial, are not what I would call nothing so the claim is misleading.

    The problem with the uncaused First Cause is that it is asserted as the only way to prevent an infinite causal regress. In other words, the only alternative to one unsatisfactory scenario is another that is equally unsatisfactory and no apparent way out of the dilemma.

    Also, your point about humans drawing on their pre-existing knowledge is not nearly the whole story nor the right way to look at intelligence.

    The whole trajectory of human invention and development is one of new discoveries, new inventions that did not exist before. Yes, we have certain background knowledge that we bring to the table, but we are not limited by that knowledge. The very point of being an intelligent being is the ability to envision opportunities and to use our ability to make choices from among contingent possibilities — to see beyond what currently exists and to bring it into reality.

    In other words and in general terms, invention or creation is the construction of novel arrangements out of pre-existing resources. Just as you cannot get something out of nothing, you cannot create a new arrangement without having something to work with. Could Tolkien have created the richly-detailed and entirely fictional world of Middle Earth without his deep knowledge of Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythologies to draw on, for example?

  50. 50
    Eric Anderson says:

    Mung @46:

    Yep, I was thinking just yesterday that might be the best option for him. 🙂

    But I suspect we may never hear, due the fear of actually engaging the issue and answering the logical question posed.

  51. 51
    Eric Anderson says:

    critical rationalist @48:

    Please provide some evidence — laboratory or observational evidence — of these simple “low accuracy replicators” you keep referring to.

    Otherwise, you’ll forgive us if we conclude it is all just a made up story.

  52. 52
    Eric Anderson says:

    Seversky @49:

    Thanks for the additional good thoughts.

    What I was trying to establish was a point of agreement on the concept of nothingness. As I’m sure you know, there are physicists who argue that the Universe could have emerged from nothing. But by “nothing” they seen to mean some sort of quantum vacuum fluctuations which, while they may be insubstantial, are not what I would call nothing so the claim is misleading.

    Agreed. I think you are definitely right that such use of the word “nothing” is misleading, because they don’t really mean nothing.

    The problem with the uncaused First Cause is that it is asserted as the only way to prevent an infinite causal regress. In other words, the only alternative to one unsatisfactory scenario is another that is equally unsatisfactory and no apparent way out of the dilemma.

    I understand a sense of unease about recurring to the uncaused First Cause. I feel it myself.

    But I don’t think it is fair to say it is “equally” unsatisfactory — unless we are a priori averse to the concept from a philosophical standpoint.

    What other option is there? Either we have a steady state universe (and there are potentially significant evidentiary problems with that) or we have a universe that was caused, in which case recurring to a cause is not problematic. Everyone is recurring to a cause, including those who argue for a multiverse from vacuum fluctuations or other similar hypotheticals. So the search for a cause, in and of itself, is certainly not problematic. It is the logical thing to do.

    Then the follow-up question becomes: What kind of cause can be both apart from the universe and not result in infinite regress (or a beginning of its own)?

    The uncaused First Cause seems to be the only game in town, regardless of any unease we may feel.

    —–

    Regardless, the original question on the table is the Origin of Life, not the origin of the universe. And as to the origin of life a designer certainly does not have the same problems as a purely natural process does.

  53. 53
    Mung says:

    Seversky:

    First, although an intelligent designer or creator, assuming that we are talking about a living being, might explain the existence of life on Earth, it doesn’t explain the origin of life itself. The question then becomes one of the origin of the designer or creator.

    Which is why theists don’t claim that God is a “living being” in the same sense that a human is a “living being.”

    Has it ever occurred to you that “living being” is redundant? What would a non-living being consist of?

  54. 54
    Eric Anderson says:

    J-Mac @47:

    Yes, I agree a large part of the desire to insist that OOL is not part of evolutionary theory is a desire to insulate their theory from what they see as the most difficult problem (which it might be).

    This, coupled with the naive assumption that once self-replication is on the scene then the magic of natural selection can perform miracles, leads to an insistence by some that all they need is that first self-replicating molecule and then things can really get cookin’!

  55. 55

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